On the move in Tanzania

Jessica Alexander experiences some creature comforts at Bushtops Safari Camps as she crosses the Serengeti in search of the Great Migration

The midnight Serengeti orchestra has a new lead vocalist tonight – the elephant. I listen intently from my bed to the sound of trees snapping and then a tell-tale trumpet that is much more abrupt than last night’s soothing hippo grunting! The noise seems so close that I’m convinced I can hear deep breathing and the flapping of ears right outside.

Chances are this group of nellies is far from camp but the temptation to sneak a peek is too much. I grab the torch, unzip the canvas door and tentatively step out onto the porch. Aiming the light towards the endless plains before me, I catch the white flash of a tusk and watch as a mother elephant strides through our back garden followed by her calf! Heart racing, I scan the trees and realise I’m surrounded by the whole herd as they graze their way through the camp, stripping trees as they go.

The next day there is evidence of our midnight visitors throughout camp and it’s not long before we catch up with them. “They like spending time here because they know they are safe from predators,” says our guide Deus. That seems like a smart move, I think, as we head off in search of a lion.

Luxury in the wild

Tanzania room

The camp in question is Serengeti Bushtops, home to 12 luxury lodges and each with its own private deck, hot tub, indoor/outdoor shower and an unobstructed view of the Serengeti. I’m lucky enough to be spending my honeymoon in this bucket-list destination and Philip and his team have pulled out all of the stops. First there was the decorated bed with personalised message upon arrival, not forgetting our own lion (the toy kind) to welcome us to the Serengeti; the next night, following a full-day game drive (and first real lion sighting) we were whisked to Simba’s Rock, a giant boulder perfectly angled towards the sunset, to enjoy sundowners.

Tanzania tent

However, the ultimate honeymoon experiences is a dip in the private hot tub on the wraparound decking. With bubbles both in the water and in my glass, I recap on a day spent spotting families of warthog scuttling through the long grass, watching hippo heads pop up like a whack-a-mole in the Mara River, and being in absolute awe as our spotter Godfrey, from the nearby Kuria tribe, practically sniffs out two male lions hidden from view under a bush.

We hadn’t seen another vehicle all day – it’s as if we were starring in our very own wildlife documentary.

Having these intimate encounters is largely due to the fact that during the months of December-April, the Great Migration – the annual journey of two million wildebeest – gathers in the south of Tanzania for birthing season.

At this time it is considered the low season in the north of the Serengeti and is the perfect time to view wildlife without the slew of competing safari vehicles that can be common in some African game reserves.

Days are spent creeping around rocks, a favourite sunbathing spot for leopards, stopping for a buffet lunch with a view of zebra grazing by the river and learning about life in the Kuria tribe. Godfrey tells me how his tribe once hunted the big cats to protect livestock and villagers, but tourism has created new prospects for local people. They now use those same tracking skills to monitor protected species.

He also tells me his grandfather has five wives, which is not uncommon – although he thinks one will be enough for him!

Upon returning to the camp, we head for a dip in the open-air pool – and find a hive of animal activity. We disturb a hyrax (a small mammal) which seems appalled by the intrusion.

As the sun goes down, guests and rangers are invited to gather around a campfire and swap stories from the day’s safari – and get a quick education of the constellations from Deus – before enjoying a fine dining experience at the open-sided restaurant, which serves traditional Tanzanian fare as well as à la carte gourmet dining.

On the move

Tanzania lion 1
Tanzania elephant

We bid farewell to one camp and head south on a tiny eight-seater plane to Roving Bushtops, where we are welcomed by Harrison and his team. Quite astonishingly, this camp moves every six months to follow migration patterns. This is no small feat considering that each of the eight tents has a fully-fitted bathroom with hot shower, an outdoor bathtub and all the luxury amenities of a five-star hotel room, including WIFI. The onsite restaurant features a full bar, wine racks and chandeliers, all of which are packed away and re-erected every six months!

Heading out in search of two million wildebeest may sound like an easy task, but covering an area of 12,000 square miles requires some impressive tracking skills.

An hour into our game drive the landscape finally empties and the horizon turns black as we get closer. Suddenly, we are in the thick of the Great Migration, wildebeest honking all around us, some already with young, and I’m surprised to see just as many zebra mixed in.

“The zebra are the smart ones, they remember where they need to go and the wildebeest follow them,” says our new guide Sadiqui. “Sometimes it can take wildebeest the whole day to build up the courage to cross the Mara River, but once one goes, they all go.”

It is here, close to the migration, where we see most of the big cat activity. From observing prides of lions lounging around after a big hunt to spotting a leopard feasting on an impala up a tree – it’s graphic but we can’t help but watch!

It’s the circle of life, after all.

Book it with… Knighton Reeve

A 10-night Serengeti Safari and Zanzibar Beach Honeymoon package in March 2025 costs from £13,499pp including one night B&B at the Dar es Salaam Serena Hotel, three nights FB at Serengeti Bushtops and two nights at Roving Bushtops, followed by four nights HB at White Sands Villas in Zanzibar. This includes all flights and transfers. africa@knightonreeve.co.uk